Water and John's Gospel

The role of water in the gospel of John recently gained my attention during a quick reread of the gospel. In almost every chapter or significant event/sign of John’s gospel, the presence of water can be found and is used by Jesus either in the miracles themselves, or in the conversations shared among Jesus and others. There is nothing found in the Bible by mistake, but rather everything is revealed for a specific purpose. Our task is to introduce the reader to the thematic of water in the gospel of John.

Water makes its first appearance in the life and ministry of John the Baptist. John’s insistence of baptism seemed odd to the Levites, priests, and Pharisees, because John did not consider himself the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet (John 1:24-25). John’s reply to their inquiry was simple - “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He whom comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (1:26-27). John would further explain the purpose of his baptizing in water was to reveal the Messiah. John explained – “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining up Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God” (1:33-34). When Jesus came to John to be baptized and fulfill all righteousness, the Spirit descended upon Jesus, as a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven – “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (cf. Matthew 3:15-17). The baptism of Jesus was the beginning point of His earthly ministry. The ministry of John continued to decrease as he prepared Israel to receive the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; 3:28-30).

The first miracle of Jesus’ ministry is centered around water (John 2:1-11). Our prerogative is not to discuss every detail of turning water into wine, but rather how this miracle was a prelude to the greater things Jesus would accomplish throughout His ministry. Jesus’ love and obedience toward His mother, even at an older age, should be imitated in our lives. The faith of Mary in Jesus should be commended. Jesus provided the highest quality of wine to the fulfill the need at the wedding feast in Cana. This miracle was the launching point of His miraculous ministry and proving Himself to be the Son of God (cf. John 20:30-31).

In the third chapter of John, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and confessed faith in His miracles, but was puzzled by Jesus’ immediate response - “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus considered Jesus’ instructions as physical by nature, but Jesus would later clarify by telling him – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter in the kingdom of God” (3:5). Jesus taught that baptism was essential for salvation (cf. Mark 16:16). The role of water and the Spirit are complementary in baptism (cf. Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). The emphasis of water and its role in the process of being born again cannot be ignored from this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus.

When Jesus sat down by Jacob’s well on the outskirts of Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman – “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7). The Samaritan woman was amazed by His request, because the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans, but this was only used by Jesus to reach the lost (4:9). The conversation He shared with the Samaritan woman convicted her of her adulterous marriages, the ignorance of the Samaritan religion, and the promise of the Messiah. The Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ instructions by returning to the city proclaiming – “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” (4:29). Jesus offered the Samaritan woman living water –  “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (4:13-14). The promise of living water is given to all who are willing to hear, believe, and obey. This promise is fulfilled when Jesus gives to all who are faithful until death – the crown of life and access to a “river of water of life” (cf. Revelation 2:10; 22:1).

The theme of water is found throughout the gospel of John. The man at the pool of Bethesda was waiting on the waters to be stirred, but Jesus said to him – “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). Jesus walked on the sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21). Jesus promised to all who were thirsty the water of life (John 7:37-38). The man who had been born blind, after having mud mixed with Jesus’ salvia applied to his eyelids, was told – “‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing” (John 9:6-7). When Jesus witnessed the grief over the loss of Lazarus – “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). On the evening of the last supper, Jesus girded Himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:5). When Jesus hung on the cross having already died, the soldiers pierced His side with a spear “and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). Finally, when Jesus appeared to the disciples by sea of Tiberias, He told the them – “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch” (John 21:6).

The role of water is found again and again in the gospel of John – Why? The answer may be the same reason we find water being emphasized throughout the Bible from Genesis 1:2 to Revelation 22:1. The use of water in man’s salvation through God’s grace maybe denied by the majority of our religious world, but the Bible’s defense of baptism and the role of water in a Christian’s life is abundantly clear. These things were not written by mistake, but rather they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The role of water is an essential theme in the gospel of John!